Of Geography and Politics

If statesmanship or the political art is synonymous with the art of war or the art of acquisition on the grandest scale, then mastery of geography becomes "the first part" of the statesman's arsenal. "[H]e should learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care.… And the prince who lacks this skill lacks the first part of what a captain must have." If the "desire to acquire" or the "lust for power" is inherently unlimited and is the governing principle of politics, then the primary concern of politics with geography, the concern with acquisition of territory, in principle knows no bounds. The concern of politics with geography, at a certain point in history, expanded its scope, not just in principle but in fact, to encompass the world.

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Of Geography and Politics

If statesmanship or the political art is synonymous with the art of war or the art of acquisition on the grandest scale, then mastery of geography becomes "the first part" of the statesman's arsenal. "[H]e should learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care.… And the prince who lacks this skill lacks the first part of what a captain must have." If the "desire to acquire" or the "lust for power" is inherently unlimited and is the governing principle of politics, then the primary concern of politics with geography, the concern with acquisition of territory, in principle knows no bounds. The concern of politics with geography, at a certain point in history, expanded its scope, not just in principle but in fact, to encompass the world.

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On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

It is precisely during the historical lulls, the quiet backwaters, that the most thinking about strategy should be done—by officers and by political leaders, both serving or aspiring to service. Nor are democracy's other citizens free to ignore defense and foreign affairs; they too might attend to Kipling's poem of warning. Thinking about strategy in peacetime is even more vital than material preparation, though both are vital. Because when war comes, it may be too late. During war, it may be too difficult. In defeat, it will be of no use.

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On Strategic Thinking: Patterns in Modern History

It is precisely during the historical lulls, the quiet backwaters, that the most thinking about strategy should be done—by officers and by political leaders, both serving or aspiring to service. Nor are democracy's other citizens free to ignore defense and foreign affairs; they too might attend to Kipling's poem of warning. Thinking about strategy in peacetime is even more vital than material preparation, though both are vital. Because when war comes, it may be too late. During war, it may be too difficult. In defeat, it will be of no use.

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The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third by Edward N. Luttwak

The Romans understood that, when possible, it was best to conserve force and use military power indirectly as the instrument of political warfare. Together with money and manipulative diplomacy, the Romans deployed forces visibly ready to fight but held back from battle to foster disunity among those who might jointly threaten the empire, to deter those who would otherwise attack, and to control lands and peoples by intimidation – ideally to the point where sufficient security or even an effective domination could be achieved without any use of force at all. The Romans learned that most desirable use of military power was not military at all, but political. They conquered the entire Hellenistic world with few battles and much coercive diplomacy. The Romans understood all the subtleties of deterrence, and its limitations.

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The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third by Edward N. Luttwak

The Romans understood that, when possible, it was best to conserve force and use military power indirectly as the instrument of political warfare. Together with money and manipulative diplomacy, the Romans deployed forces visibly ready to fight but held back from battle to foster disunity among those who might jointly threaten the empire, to deter those who would otherwise attack, and to control lands and peoples by intimidation – ideally to the point where sufficient security or even an effective domination could be achieved without any use of force at all. The Romans learned that most desirable use of military power was not military at all, but political. They conquered the entire Hellenistic world with few battles and much coercive diplomacy. The Romans understood all the subtleties of deterrence, and its limitations.

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James Ceaser on Tocqueville and China

The American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Tocqueville on China Project has published an essay by Professor James W. Ceaser of the University of Virginia and the Hoover Institution. According to Ceaser, Tocqueville was one of the first thinkers to treat two of the great themes that have preoccupied modern scholars of China: modernization and transition. His writings on these themes were the forerunners of such classic works as James Bryce's Modern Democracy (1921) and Samuel Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and they thus indirectly help inform the wave of scholarship in comparative politics on "democratic transitions" that appeared after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

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James Ceaser on Tocqueville and China

The American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Tocqueville on China Project has published an essay by Professor James W. Ceaser of the University of Virginia and the Hoover Institution. According to Ceaser, Tocqueville was one of the first thinkers to treat two of the great themes that have preoccupied modern scholars of China: modernization and transition. His writings on these themes were the forerunners of such classic works as James Bryce's Modern Democracy (1921) and Samuel Huntington's Political Order in Changing Societies (1968), and they thus indirectly help inform the wave of scholarship in comparative politics on "democratic transitions" that appeared after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

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Mahan’s Influence on the Chinese National Security Debate

The strategic culture formed by China’s history and political geography is a profoundly continentalist one.  Looking at China’s current maritime transformation in a longer historical perspective, though, it is possible to overstate the extent to which Chinese strategic culture over the centuries has been strictly continentalist.   The critical contemporary question is whether China’s traditional continentalist strategic culture will constrain the country’s development as a maritime power.  The Chinese themselves are not entirely of one mind about this. Indeed, for the first time there is a robust debate within the Chinese national security community concerning the meaning and limits of China’s turn to the sea.  In this debate, according to the Naval War College editors, Chinese navalists have become avid students of Mahan.

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Mahan’s Influence on the Chinese National Security Debate

The strategic culture formed by China’s history and political geography is a profoundly continentalist one.  Looking at China’s current maritime transformation in a longer historical perspective, though, it is possible to overstate the extent to which Chinese strategic culture over the centuries has been strictly continentalist.   The critical contemporary question is whether China’s traditional continentalist strategic culture will constrain the country’s development as a maritime power.  The Chinese themselves are not entirely of one mind about this. Indeed, for the first time there is a robust debate within the Chinese national security community concerning the meaning and limits of China’s turn to the sea.  In this debate, according to the Naval War College editors, Chinese navalists have become avid students of Mahan.

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Robert Kaplan on the Geopolitical Classics and Contemporary China

Kaplan points out that Halford J. Mackinder ended his famous 1904 article, "The Geographical Pivot of History," with a reference to China. After explaining why Eurasia was the geostrategic fulcrum of world power, Mackinder posited that the Chinese, should they expand their power well beyond their borders, "might constitute the yellow peril to the world's freedom just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region." Kaplan argues that Mackinder, then-fashionable racism aside, had a point:  whereas Russia, that other Eurasian giant, basically was, and is still, a land power with an oceanic front blocked by ice, China, owing to a 9,000-mile temperate coastline with many good natural harbors, is both a land power and a sea power.

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Robert Kaplan on the Geopolitical Classics and Contemporary China

Kaplan points out that Halford J. Mackinder ended his famous 1904 article, "The Geographical Pivot of History," with a reference to China. After explaining why Eurasia was the geostrategic fulcrum of world power, Mackinder posited that the Chinese, should they expand their power well beyond their borders, "might constitute the yellow peril to the world's freedom just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region." Kaplan argues that Mackinder, then-fashionable racism aside, had a point:  whereas Russia, that other Eurasian giant, basically was, and is still, a land power with an oceanic front blocked by ice, China, owing to a 9,000-mile temperate coastline with many good natural harbors, is both a land power and a sea power.

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McDougall: Can America Do Grand Strategy?

McDougall poses the question differently -- whether the U.S. government is capable formally of planning, coordinating and executing grand strategy with sufficient competence to secure the nation and its vital interests?   Here he expresses strong doubts:  "World weary as I am, having witnessed so many disappointing and disillusioning cycles of politics and foreign policy, having acquired so much vicarious experience of human folly and forgetfulness from my study of history, I nurture no hope that a great burst of grand strategic creativity lies just ahead. Oh, this or a subsequent administration may make institutional reforms, such as insisting that the National Security Strategy document address resources and means instead of just goals, or reinventing the Eisenhower NSC structure with its Planning and Operations Coordinating boards."

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McDougall: Can America Do Grand Strategy?

McDougall poses the question differently -- whether the U.S. government is capable formally of planning, coordinating and executing grand strategy with sufficient competence to secure the nation and its vital interests?   Here he expresses strong doubts:  "World weary as I am, having witnessed so many disappointing and disillusioning cycles of politics and foreign policy, having acquired so much vicarious experience of human folly and forgetfulness from my study of history, I nurture no hope that a great burst of grand strategic creativity lies just ahead. Oh, this or a subsequent administration may make institutional reforms, such as insisting that the National Security Strategy document address resources and means instead of just goals, or reinventing the Eisenhower NSC structure with its Planning and Operations Coordinating boards."

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Foreign Policy and Regime Change: Classic Dimensions

The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with subsequent U.S. efforts to promote democracy in those countries, have raised fundamental questions as old as—even older than—the Republic itself. To what extent does the character of other nations and peoples, especially their form of government, affect American national security? American national security affected by the character of other nations and peoples, and especially by their form of government? Under what circumstances are Americans justified in becoming involved in the domestic affairs of others? To put the issue in its sharpest relief: should the United States intervene actively to bring about the change of a foreign regime—or take sides in a civil war among contending regimes—even to the point of governing other peoples without their consent?

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Foreign Policy and Regime Change: Classic Dimensions

The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with subsequent U.S. efforts to promote democracy in those countries, have raised fundamental questions as old as—even older than—the Republic itself. To what extent does the character of other nations and peoples, especially their form of government, affect American national security? American national security affected by the character of other nations and peoples, and especially by their form of government? Under what circumstances are Americans justified in becoming involved in the domestic affairs of others? To put the issue in its sharpest relief: should the United States intervene actively to bring about the change of a foreign regime—or take sides in a civil war among contending regimes—even to the point of governing other peoples without their consent?

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Xenophon, The Persian Expedition

To encourage fidgety school boys to pay attention to their Greek lessons, English and American headmasters would frequently assign Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus (The Ascent of Cyrus, sometimes rendered as “The March Up-Country” and popularly titled “The Persian Expedition”). Xenophon told the thrilling story of what became known as the Ten Thousand, a Greek mercenary contingent engaged during the summer of 401 B.C. by a Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, to support his campaign to claim the throne from his brother, Artaxerxes II. These events took place shortly after the Spartan-led coalition, with aid from Persia, had defeated Athens and its allies in the decades-long Peloponnesian War.

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Xenophon, The Persian Expedition

To encourage fidgety school boys to pay attention to their Greek lessons, English and American headmasters would frequently assign Xenophon’s Anabasis of Cyrus (The Ascent of Cyrus, sometimes rendered as “The March Up-Country” and popularly titled “The Persian Expedition”). Xenophon told the thrilling story of what became known as the Ten Thousand, a Greek mercenary contingent engaged during the summer of 401 B.C. by a Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, to support his campaign to claim the throne from his brother, Artaxerxes II. These events took place shortly after the Spartan-led coalition, with aid from Persia, had defeated Athens and its allies in the decades-long Peloponnesian War.

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Paul Seabury, The Wilhelmstrasse (1954)

The German Empire created by Bismarck inherited from Prussia a highly rationalized, professional trained, permanent bureaucracy, an important part of which was the Foreign Office (the Wilhelmstrasse). The prestige of this bureaucracy as a whole was enormous. Its personnel was recruited not only from the aristocracy but from the commercial and, later, industrial middle class. By the turn of the 20th century it represented an amalgam of the "liberal" nationalist and conservative elements of German society. The early Weimar Republic attempted to democratize German diplomacy by introducing "new blood" into lower career-service posts and appoint non-career officials into higher positions. The experiment failed.

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Paul Seabury, The Wilhelmstrasse (1954)

The German Empire created by Bismarck inherited from Prussia a highly rationalized, professional trained, permanent bureaucracy, an important part of which was the Foreign Office (the Wilhelmstrasse). The prestige of this bureaucracy as a whole was enormous. Its personnel was recruited not only from the aristocracy but from the commercial and, later, industrial middle class. By the turn of the 20th century it represented an amalgam of the "liberal" nationalist and conservative elements of German society. The early Weimar Republic attempted to democratize German diplomacy by introducing "new blood" into lower career-service posts and appoint non-career officials into higher positions. The experiment failed.

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